“In the Netherlands, design is already a major product, here it is still in an early stage. The idea behind the hub is to put the whole concept of design on the map in Uganda.”
The smell of fresh paint penetrates my nose when I enter the old call-centre building on 5th street in Kampala. People with measuring rods, overalls and other equipment’s dominate the scene and betray the recent opening of Design Hub Kampala: Uganda’s very first design co-working space. “A lot of things still have to be fixed, but if you saw this place three months ago, you wouldn’t believe it”. I sit down with creative director Jantien Zuurbier – one of the founders – and talk to a bunch of creatives to learn more about this new and unique initiative.
BRAND NEW HUB TREND IN KAMPALA
Jantien has been living in Uganda for over ten years. Her occupation as a web designer forced her to work at home a lot. She missed the interaction with other creative people, but there were no co-working spaces in Kampala yet.
In 2011 she started @The HUB Kampala, Uganda’s first co-working space. Jantien rents a small place where she successfully manages to house different start-ups for a period of 4 to 5 years. Ironically, her success also meant the destruction of The HUB. Gentrification set in. New bars, shops and creative entrepreneurs upgraded the neighbourhood. As a consequence, rents increased rapidly. Also, some start-ups continued to grow; she couldn’t hold on to them. She decided to quit.
Shortly after, she meet Ineke Aquarius, who came from Amsterdam as the new director of Mangotree – a company in Kampala that develops innovative education and communication materials. They found each other in the idea of a design co-working space and started to put things in motion one and a half years ago. Ineke could sort out the financial picture and mobilize people, while Jantien had the experience. Together they started searching for a new place and future members. This resulted in Design Hub Kampala, which opened its doors just six weeks ago.
“The idea is to broaden the field of design. In Uganda many people still think of design as decoration: making things pretty. But design is connected to many fields like communication and education. We try to stimulate co-creation and promote design-thinking as a whole.”
A GLOBAL COMMUNITY
The building – an old MTN call centre – is located within an industrial area in Kampala. With the help of a Dutch interior decorator, they transformed the place into a multifunctional open workspace. There are meeting rooms, event facilities, fixed and flexible desks, a makers’ space; something for everyone. Next to the bigger companies with fixed contracts, there are different membership passes ranging from 50 to 150 dollars a month. There is also an online membership, and a daily drop in rate for people who want to work by themselves with fast Wi-Fi for just one day.
As I stroll through the building, I spot many companies from various countries, working in different sectors. In the event space I meet Jobray, who is a Ugandan artist working in the field of – what he calls – ‘urban contemporary arts’. Next to his beautiful sketches he does a lot of freestyle painting. As Jobray is ‘freestyling’, he explains to me how he works, and where his inspiration comes from.
I also meet the team of Creatures Animation. Founder Raymond worked in several professional animation studios abroad. He decided to go back to his home country, and take animation in Uganda to the next level. His passion and their work is truly inspiring. As he explains the process of their new made short movie, I’m amazed by the amount of work and the effort he is putting in his team. Most of them didn’t have the opportunity to develop animation skills to their full potential yet, so he teaches them everything!
“We are a team, we do everything together.”
Furthermore, I spot other companies like Design Without Borders, Mangotrees, Eyeopenerworks, Healthy Entrepreneurs and Add Value Creators, foreign companies, some of which I don’t see to have a connection to design directly.
CO-WORKING AND CO-CREATION
“We have a few Ugandans, but still less than we hoped. It’s a pity really, and I’m not sure on how to solve it”.
After a day at the Hub, talking to different people, I conclude that it is mostly a mix of expat companies. Jantien confirms and explains that this has to do with the reach of her own personal network. Also it seems the expats are more familiar with the concept. “Ugandan companies usually ask immediately for closed office space.”
Still, Jantien and the designers have spent quite some time to make the place comfortable for everybody. She explains that the expats for example loved the place while the steel and wood was still unfurnished, while most Ugandans thought is was unfinished. Together, they found a middle way.
“There you could really see different visions in what people think is beautiful. I found it quite enjoyable to witness.”
They also needed to create the space together; that was the idea. Working in the same space is not the same as working together; co-working is co-creating.
For instance, co-working implies the pairing of a coffee exporter, a branding company and a product designer who designs a bottle for a new coffee liqueur, or a fashion designer who partners with a 3-D modeler to design a pair of shoes. It is this synergy that results in creative outcomes. These projects definitely have to increase, but also develop over time, Jantien says.
Eventually, Design Hub is here to promote the concept of design as a whole, because in Uganda, it is still in an early stage. Moreover, these places have the ability to change their whole (urban) environment.
“I think and I hope that this area will turn out like the NDSM doc in Amsterdam, or like Moboneng in Johannesburg.”
This increasingly vacant industrial area has even attracted two other creative spaces recently. The neighbourhood is changing as we speak, and Design Hub is a key player in this development. Jantien hopes that eventually, this area will be filled with designers, galleries and other creative spaces. The potential is there, so I wish Jantien, Ineke and the others all the best! I recommend everybody to follow the developments of this new, exciting and unique initiative in Kampala, Uganda.